West Texas A&M receives donation

West Texas A&M receives donation for animal science program.

A major gift from a former president of West Texas A&M University and his wife will allow the university to significantly expand its foothold in pre-veterinary education and animal studies.

WT President Emeritus Russell C. Long, and wife Natrelle Hedrick Long, have announced a $2.1 million planned gift to the university to establish a new companion animal science program for students planning on a career in veterinary medicine or in a host of other pet-related careers.

“This gift is our attempt to satisfy three of our most basic desires: to help WT and WT students, to help animals, and to help the region which has come to mean so much to us,” the Longs said.

The Longs’ gift also will set up a scholarship fund for students in the program, and it will include the donation of the couple’s extensive collection of books to WT’s Cornette Library.

As part of the Longs’ gift, the Dr. Russell C. Long and Natrelle Hedrick Long Professorship in Companion Animal Studies will be established and will be first held by Dr. Sara-Louise Newcomer.

Companion animals are domesticated animals--such as dogs, cats, horses, birds, reptiles or rodents--that are primarily kept as pets. They are not livestock or wild animals. 

The gift—another significant milestone in the University’s historic comprehensive One West fundraising campaign--was announced at a Dec. 15 press conference.

With this gift, the campaign has raised $116 million, 93 percent of the $125 million goal announced in September 2021.

“Russell and Natrelle served WT faithfully in their leadership roles, and they continue to set an example in their sustained connection to the University in their retirement,” said WT President Walter V. Wendler. “I am grateful for their continued leadership to WT through their generous support of the One West campaign.”

The companion animal science program will provide a new educational pathway for students.

Many are expected to study in the program in preparation for attending veterinary school, such as the Veterinary Education, Research, & Outreach partnership between Texas A&M University’s School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and WT’s Paul Engler College of Agriculture & Natural Sciences.

WT offers degree paths in animal science, biology or chemistry for students who plan to apply to schools of veterinary medicine. 

According to a survey of graduating seniors conducted in 2022 by the American Veterinary Medical Association, almost 80 percent of veterinary students are interested in working with small or companion animals. Adding coursework focusing on these animals will fill a significant need, Newcomer said.

“I appreciate the Longs’ passion and commitment to WT as well as their commitment to animals, and I’m honored to be the first chosen for this position,” Newcomer said. “One of the biggest motivators in this field is the human-animal bond. I have a passion for teaching about that and for looking for ways that we can impact the lives of both humans and animals. That bond affects so many lives in so many different ways.”

The program also will meaningfully target students pursuing a career path outside of veterinary medicine. 

The global companion animal health market was estimated to be valued at $18.67 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow about 9 percent annually through 2028—showing a significant opportunity for WT students as they enter the workforce.

Among possible career paths are service/therapy dog training, pet grooming, boarding facility management, shelter manager, pet food nutrition fields, pharmaceutical research and sales, retail pet stores and education.

“The Longs’ gift allows us to further develop WT students’ passion for companion animals and helping them, through their education in this program, to go on to find how they best fit in working with companion animals,” said Dr. Kevin Pond, dean of the Paul Engler College of Agriculture & Natural Sciences. “Veterinary medicine is only one need of many in a field that only continues to grow.”

The program—to be housed in the Department of Life, Earth and Environmental Science—will offer two pathways: A 15-to-18-hour academic certificate or a minor.

“We expect that this new program that will enable students to gain meaningful educational experiences relating to their love of companion animals,” department head Dr. David Sissom said. “It will benefit our local and regional communities and enrich the lives of the animals we care so much about. The students and faculty of the Department of Life, Earth, & Environmental Sciences are deeply appreciative of the generosity and kindness provided by the Longs.”

Course offerings can be expanded as the program grows, and collaborations may be fostered with the Paul and Virginia Engler College of Business and the Department of Psychology, Sociology and Social Work in the Terry B. Rogers College of Education.

President Long became the ninth president of WT in 1995, having previously served as provost. He retired in 2005. 

During his tenure, Long led the implementation of new academic programs addressing regional needs in mechanical engineering, dryland agriculture, equine industries, environmental science, emergency management systems, athletics training and communication disorders, and he was responsible for establishing the University’s first doctoral program, a Ph.D. in agriculture. 

New facilities during Long’s tenure included the Sybil B. Harrington Fine Arts Complex, the First United Bank Center and the Hastings Electronic Learning Center, helping to make WT a pioneer in distance education.

Natrelle Long worked as executive assistant to former President Barry B. Thompson. She was cofounder of the WT Women’s Council, which supported campus beautification, and was instrumental in establishing the Old Main Society, the WTAMU Foundation’s premier donor recognition group.

Since retiring, the Longs, both published novelists, have worked extensively to support the homeless and the animal population in the Amarillo area.

Newcomer earned her doctor of veterinary medicine degree from the University of Florida in 2003. She completed a master’s in adult education from Auburn University in 2021. She and husband, Dr. Benjamin J. Newcomer, moved to Texas in 2021, and she has worked at WT since June 2021 as a clinical assistant professor and coordinator of the companion animal science program.

Meeting regional needs is a primary focus of the University’s long-range plan, WT 125: From the Panhandle to the World.

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